15/04/2024

Panama's Women's National Team in the lead-up to its first match against Brazil in Adelaide (Image: @FEPAFUT Twitter)

Panama enters its first-ever Women's World Cup match taking on heavyweights Brazil and Las Canaleras are looking to make the most of the opportunity.

When it comes to football, not much connects the Panamanian and Brazilian Women’s National teams.

Brazil enters Australia and New Zealand 2023 having qualified for all nine editions of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, unable to win one, but have had multiple close calls, while Panama registers its first-ever appearance on the global stage in 2023.

While the Brazilian side features a roster of professional players that have made, or are making an impact around the world on the football pitch, Panama’s side features multiple players who have resorted to playing in their home competitions.

When Las Canaleras take on Brazil, the reality is they are not just taking on a world football superpower, but also in many cases their heroes. Panama midfielder Aldrith Quintero spoke in the lead-up to the game about the excitement that has engulfed her side as it enters its first Women’s World Cup.

“We are happy to participate in the World Cup. I think we deserve it, we fought for this, but we are constantly laughing. We can’t stop feeling this way,” she said.

“We are looking forward to the match. It is 11 against 11 and we are going to fight until the very end.”

Brazil enters the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup standing eighth in the global rankings, while Panama sits at a lowly 52nd place.

Panama coach Nacho Quintana enters the World Cup tournament as the youngest coach at only 35 years of age, 28 years younger than his experienced counterpart Pia Sundhage. Las Caneleras face another unfavourable discrepancy on the pitch with three years separating the average age of the two sides.

Despite the odds being stacked against his team the coach remains adamant that his side will be doing its best to give Brazil a fight.

“We won’t be playing like victims, we are facing a team above us in the ranking, but one that only has 11 players like we do and we deserve to be here just as much as they do,” he said.

“You hear Brazil and it is synonymous with football, it is the most football-obsessed nation in the world and when we saw we were playing them it was extra motivation, not something to be scared about. We respect them, but that respect ends when the match starts; it may even make it easier because we have a lot more information about them than they have about us and we are going to try and take advantage of this.”

On the opposition bench, Pia Sundhage is certainly not taking her inexperienced opponents lightly. Just a few days into this tournament, the experienced coach has seen teams that started as heavy favourites in Norway, Canada, and France drop points against countries such as New Zealand, Nigeria, and Jamaica, while fellow World Cup debutants Haiti gave European Champions England a monumental scare.

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When asked about how far her team can go in the tournament, Sundhage went out of her way to deliver a short and sharp message to her charges about how to maximise their potential, something which shapes as important heading into the Panama clash.

“The most important thing is, don’t take anything for granted and please enjoy the game. If we do that we have a big chance to win tomorrow [against Panama] and we have the chance to win many games,” she said.

The Swedish mentor made a point about how surprised she has been by the performances of the underdogs to begin the tournament, ensuring it is something she is using to keep her players on their toes.

“It is not only the results, but it is also how [lower ranked teams] are playing [that] has surprised me a little bit and that is very encouraging for some of us,” she said.

“Especially if you look at the ranking, this is what I showed the Brazilian National Team. If you look at the ranking and who is winning it is interesting. That is a way for me to make sure that the younger players come in with a lot of enthusiasm, and that the older players remember not to take anything for granted.”

Panama has been set a tall task in its inaugural Women’s World Cup appearance, drawn in the same group as Brazil and France, but it is not something that will dampen the team’s spirits according to coach Nacho Quintana.

“It has been a reoccurring question, ‘What is the most dangerous thing about my team?’ It is that happiness,” he said.

“That is the Panamanian culture. It is a happy culture. We are very responsible, hard-working, passionate, and we have found balance. We have a hard challenge ahead of us in the first stage, but we do think about getting to the next round and demonstrating what makes Latin America strong and it’s that happiness and that unity we have amongst everyone.”

Panama’s spirit will be tested against its historically strong opposition, but regardless of the results of this tournament, this is a watershed moment for Las Canaleras. Thousands of people back in Latin America will watch their heroes take on some of the best players in the world, and that will be enough to inspire a generation.

Panama will be looking to showcase its culture and resilience on the field, and if a heavyweight decides not to respect it, the early days of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup have shown that an upset of historical proportions may well and truly be on the cards.

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